BY Jason Lamphier
January 12 2010 10:00 AM ET
Few actors get the chance to play two memorable gay fashionistas in the same lifetime. Even fewer get to play them in the same day. But that’s exactly what Michael Urie did last spring and summer, when he found himself dashing from the set of Ugly Betty, where he plays bootlicking fashion magazine assistant Marc St. James, to the stage of The Temperamentals, where he portrayed Rudi Gernreich, the iconoclastic designer who before folding himself firmly into the closet helped establish one of the first gay rights groups in U.S. history.
“I’m not fashionable,” Urie admits, hunched over a cup of coffee at a table in one of his favorite Manhattan brunch spots, just blocks away from his Hell’s Kitchen apartment. The 29-year-old Juilliard grad, who once had dreams of staying in his suburban hometown outside Dallas to teach high school drama, has basically become synonymous with his foppish Ugly Betty character. But on this rainy, chilly Sunday afternoon in December, Urie’s outfit—frumpy dark gray sweater, frayed cap, simple logo tee—is far from exceptional. There’s not even so much as a pattern in sight. Wilhelmina Slater would be mortified. “And here I am,” he continues, “playing two people in the fashion world, one of which has to hide the fact that he’s gay in order to succeed, the other of which is successful because he’s gay.”
It may at first seem too coincidental that Urie spent several months flip-flopping between such similar roles. But while some would say the situation smacks of typecasting, it was actually a matter of happenstance. Urie had been doing readings of The Temperamentals with its gay writer, Pulitzer finalist Jon Marans (Old Wicked Songs), well before he landed the prime-time role that put him on the map. When Marans resurfaced to recruit Urie for the showcase of the play in New York City’s Studio Theatre last April, Urie says he was hardly reluctant. “When I was deciding whether to do it, the biggest negative was that it was another gay character who works in fashion,” he remembers, “but I knew I would be doing something very different than what I do on Ugly Betty.”
Through its sold-out performances, critical buzz, and word of mouth, The Temperamentals extended its limited 2009 engagement for several weeks, finally closing at the end of August. In late February, however, Urie will return for the show’s third off-Broadway incarnation at New York’s New World Stages, the production again coinciding with shooting for Ugly Betty. Audiences who see this latest version will notice that while Urie’s depiction of Gernreich is at times caustic and comical, it’s a considerable cry from his reliably campy turn as Marc.